Seven Churches Not in the Book of Revelation… and Missions

The Monclova Country Church.
Image via Wikipedia

Gene Mims book, “The Seven Churches Not in the Book of Revelation” gives 7 types of churches that he sees as being unhealthy.

1. The University Church—where the emphasis is on teaching, learning, and doctrine.

2. The Arena Church—worship-centered, where performance and entertainment are key.

3. The Corporate Church—large, complex, intricate, and a model of efficiency.

4. The Machine Church—program-oriented, focused on building, missions, and task management.

5. The Family Chapel Church—based on family ties, where personal relationships come first.

6. The Legacy Church—rich in tradition, often focused on a great event or personality of the past.

7. The Community Center Church—committed to community service and local issues.

The problem with these 7 churches is the over emphasis on one aspect of its role. Some of these churches are easily the result of missionary church-planting. I am sure that in different parts of the world, different ones are more likely. The most common probably is the Family Chapel Church. One of  the MacGavran principles for church growth is “homogeneous groups”… probably the most controversial of the principles. Whether one actively seeks homogeneity in a church or not, small churches in mission areas often grow along blood lines. This is not bad, but the initial phase can become a stagnant condition that starts to keep others away.

The arena church with its focus on worship/entertainment is also common. The tendency to equate entertainment (music and movement) with worship certainly promotes this. It is actually amazing how one can visit a tiny rural church. It may be tin roof and cement blocks or bamboo and nipa. Yet they have an electric guitar, drum set, and amplifier… even when they don’t have space or resources for training, programs for discipleship and outreach, or even bibles. Don’t get me wrong. I am not against music, singing, and such. I am concerned when it becomes the central aspect of the church. Some have argued that worship is the central function of the church. But that really depends on how you define worship. Music, singing, dancing, and such is clearly NOT the central function of the church… nor is it the major part of worship.

The machine church is less common, but this is seen at times. I think part of this comes from the presumption that there must be ONE WAY TO DO CHURCH. This fallacy is common worldwide, but where there are lots of different types of churches, I think there may be a greater realization that different types of churches can be healthy churches. Where churches are less common, I suspect that there is a greater tendency to look for a method that will work. Some churches gravity to a popularized program and desperately keep trying to “make it work.” Commonly, methods that have come and gone from other regions drift into missions regions given a new life. Other churches keep jumping to different flavors of the moment, trying new things… hoping to find the “right one”.

I am sure the other four churches are a possibility… particularly the legacy church in the 2nd and 3rd generations. The challenge is to create a Christ-centered church that has healthy aspects of the above 7 churches. After all, all churches should be involved in:

-teaching and learning

-having music and performance as part of corporate worship/fellowship

-developing structures for efficient use of resources

-customizing programs to fit the uniqueness of the local congregation

-enhancing family structures and developing relationships that go beyond the familial

-maintaining a sense of history and tradition within the congregation

-working to serve the broader community in which the church is enmeshed

Three “Springs” of Missions

Cover of "The Mind of Christ"
Cover of The Mind of Christ

I don’t care for most devotional or Christian growth books. But I do really enjoy the book/study guide “The Mind of Christ” by T. W. Hunt and Claude V. King. Part of my appreciation of it is that it is structured analytically… and I enjoy the analytical. A very useful section (in my mind) is near the end where it has a chapter on Christlike virtues.

It explains these virtues through synonyms, antonyms (opposites), and perversions. In other words, it takes a virtue and explains it through other words that share commonality or similarity of meaning. The virtue  is also explained by its opposites. Then the virtue is explained by its perversion or behavior that may appear similar to the virtue, and yet is fake and sickly. The last one is the most important, because it is the most subtle, yet important, to distinguish from the real thing.

Take the example from “The Mind of Christ” for the Christlike virtue of “peace”

-Synonyms:  rest, quietness, tranquility, harmony, concord, repose, serenity

-Opposites:  war, rage, havoc, discord, conflict, strife, rivalry, clash, feud, brawl, fracas, hassle, melee, rift.

 -Perversions: neutrality, lukewarmness, indifference, detached, uncommitted, uninvolved.

The opposite of peace lacks its outward symptoms. The perversions of peace may have its outward symptoms, but lacks the appropriate motivation to be forms of peace. The core is sickly. Peace, the real thing, has the outward behavior driven by the true virtuous motive.

Consider three springs (of water). I am part of an organization named “Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center.” The word “bukal” is Tagalog for a spring of water. It was chosen to express the concept of giving life and refreshment. But there are more than one type of spring. Here are three springs:

          Good Spring: Gives good water

          Dry Spring:  Gives nothing

          Poisoned Spring:  Gives water but is undrinkable (even if it looks good)

The good spring is the virtue—good action and good motivation/purpose

The dry spring is the opposite—bad action (regardless of the motivation)

The poisoned spring is the perversion—good appearing action driven by bad motivation/purpose.

I believe there are three springs in Missions. There is the good, the dry, and the poisoned springs (or good missions, non-missions, and flawed/perverse missions).

Here is my suggestion on these three:

  1. The Good Spring of Missions.  “Living as God’s voice, hands, and feet outside of the church, motivated by love for God and for all in need.”
  2. The Dry Spring of Missions. “Rejecting the call to serve as God’s voice, hands, and feet outside of the church.”
  3. The Poisoned Spring of Missions. “Living as God’s voice, hands, and feet outside of the church, motivated by love of self, clique, or formula.”

Not surprisingly, it is easy to spot the dry spring of missions. Years ago, there was the Anti-missions movement, motivated by hyper (consistent) Calvinism often. In more recent years, Universalism, and Pluralism are more common motives. Some don’t act because they don’t care. They are easy to spot. But it is the poisoned spring that is harder to recognize. The perversion of missions may be successful, but is decayed at its core, because the focus is on the leader, the strategy, the method, the specific sect, and so forth… rather than on God and the needy.

To know Good Missions, we have to be able to recognize all three types.

Problems in Christian Imagery

Devil medium
From “The Devil’s Bible”. Image via Wikipedia

I had an acquaintance who was invited to visit an “underground church” in China. They went into a tall condominium building. My friend was surprised when they began heading upstairs rather than downstairs. It took him a few seconds to remember that the term “underground church” was an expression that meant that it was not registered with the government. Although he knew that, it is so easy to take an expression and make it literal. In US history, there was a loose network of people that made up something called the “underground railroad”. This network of people helped slaves leave the southern states in the US during the 1800s and escape to Canada. The term “underground railroad” was used figuratively. The term “railroad” was used to describe the common purpose between it and real railroads– that of transport of humans from one place to another. The term underground pointed out that it was (just like the underground church) being done without legal sanction. Despite this knowledge, I tend to picture in my mind a dark tunnel that people who would travel through. Figurative language (such as the redemptive analogies mentioned in a previous post) can both enlighten and confuse. These may be harmless examples. But what happens when our language confuses us in more weighty matters. Here are three possible examples:

1. “The Devil.” Even though the Bible refers to Satan as an “angel of light,” our picture of him tends to be… well… devilish. That means horns, tail, pitchfork, sharp features, evil grin. The positive side of this imagery is that evil is shown as undesirable… as unpleasant, unlike God. The negative side is that it can engender the assumption that that which looks pleasant or enticing must be good. We are all prone to a certain dualism. If good looks good and bad looks bad, that would be great. But bad can look awfully good at times. The Biblical description of Satan as a deceiver, one who fools and confuses people, is the truth. Evil doesn’t always appear to be evil. In missions I have come across people pushing strange beliefs and behaviors justified in that it has some positive fruits. However, it is hard to imagine any evil that doesn’t, potentially, have positive fruits. Genocide may increase the food supply and decrease housing prices. Superficial fruit (like superficial appearances) can deceive… covering up its true essence. The recent vampire craze shows evil as enticing. While there are certainly problems with this craze, it at least shows the allure of evil, something that is missing with the imagery of “the devil”.

2. Images of Christ. Traditional images of Christ show Jesus as white. Some even showed him as blonde-haired and blue-eyed. As weird as it may seem, there were even some who used these traditional images (created centuries after the fact) to justify the argument that Jesus must have been fathered by a Roman soldier (explaining his less-than-Semitic appearance). In recent times, there have been a move toward showing Jesus as having, at least somewhat, Jewish features… at least with brown hair and brown eyes. However, even today, angels tend to be shown with Nordic looks. Much of this was that most Christians during the 2nd millenium were European. But with Christianity becoming more international, the imagery needs to change. This is because Christianity should not be looked at as a foreign religion. God so loved THE WORLD… not a specific region of the world. So our imagery should not confuse us. I have seen in African-American Christian bookstores Madonna and child pictures where Mary and Jesus look sub-Saharan African. Is this an acceptable alternative? Perhaps, or perhaps it creates simply a different form of exclusivity. At least images of a Semitic Christ has the advantage of historicity. The religious leaders and Roman soldiers required a kiss from Judas to identify Jesus within his crowd of disciples— so he must have at least blended in with fellow Galileans. Even here, however, any imagery that shows Jesus as foreign to a people group risks confusion. It is perhaps good that the Bible gives no details about Jesus’ appearance than that he was male, had a beard, and had an appearance that made him fit in comfortably in Jewish society.

3. “Saving souls.” In theory, savings souls means saving people. Yet some appear to take the term literally. As such, some use evangelistic techniques that appear to ignore the body and physical situation that an individual lives in. If God cares for the the whole person, so should we. Even after death, we are described as existing in/as a resurrected body. I believe that the term “saving souls” can tempt us to love souls not people. Some Evangelicals even make the argument that caring about the physical and social concerns of people is a distraction from “sould-saving.” What a horrible idea!! Truthfully, if we don’t love people (in ways that are tangible and holistic)… we probably don’t love their souls either.

4.  God.  What does God look like?  As Christians we may say, accurately that God is without form. But that is not to say that we don’t picture God regardless. One person, perhaps, may see God in terms of a doting grandfather with long white beard— waiting to hand out treats to those who ask. Another may picture a more wrathful God with lightning in His hand. Yet another may see God as serene, distant, transcendent, unconcerned. How would these images affect one’s relationship with God. In fact, if a person says that he or she worships God, the question that could reasonably follow is, “Which God?”

Christian Missions: Destroyer of Cultures?

Cover of "Christ and Culture (Torchbooks)...
Cover of Christ and Culture (Torchbooks)

It has often been charged that Christian missions destroys culture. In my view, the response to this is clear…SOMETIMES.  To consider this further, we need to recognize some truths.

1.  Cultures are not static. They are constantly in flux… changing. Only dead cultures do not change. Living cultures change. Such change is normal and healthy.

2. There is no such thing as good or bad cultures. Cultures have good and bad characteristics. Each culture provides a structure for its people to survive, thrive, and interact. No culture does this perfectly. In other words, every culture can use some improving.

3.  Just as no culture is entirely good or bad… it is likely that no change is completely good or bad. Every change will have its winners and losers. Unintended consequences are always a possibility.

4.  The interaction of God’s revelation with a culture will engender change. Only that with no power will engender no change. There exists a lot of disagreement as to how God’s revelation should affect culture (refer to “Christ and Culture” by H. Richard Niebuhr for several viewpoints). However, no interaction/effect is simply not an option.

5.  Interaction with people of other cultures will engender change. Cultures in contact place  stresses on each other… resulting in change. We learn from each other.

6.  In this era of mass media and easy transportation, every culture will be affected and changed by other messages and people from other cultures. I remember when I was in Brazil, the Brazilian government was seeking to protect the indigenous tribes from outside influences. Part of this was the prevention of Christian mission work there. The problem with this, according to Brazilian Christians was that other people were still reaching these indigenous tribes. These were exploiters: drug dealers, illegal loggers, and other criminals. While the 19th century missionary David Livingston was exploring central Africa, he ran into his fair share of foreigners. These were commonly Portuguese and Arab slave traders. Christian missionaries are never the only outside influences of a culture.

7.  Change is good when it is based on what is true, and effectively discerns between what is good in a culture and what is bad. William Carey, early Baptist missionary to the Bengali people of India fought against suti (widow-burning) and against keeping girls uneducated. However, he also promoted the best of the local culture… even publishing and translating Indian and Hindu classic literature. Simply replacing one culture with another culture is not critically discerning. It is never a good idea.

8. Christian missions is always best in translation rather than diffusion. Lamin Sanneh describes translation as taking the message and translating and contextualizing it to a new culture and language. Diffusion is the replacing of a culture with the new culture. He uses Christianity and Islam as the examples. Christianity has recognized the message as above the language, so the Bible can and should be translated into the heart language of the people. The Quran is seen as eternally existing in 7th century Arabic. Therefore, the Quran does not exist in its true form except in 7th century Arabic. A translation of the Quran makes it something different and less than the original. Christian missions (based on the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15) recognizes that a good Christian in one culture may act noticeably different from a good Christian in a different culture. That is because one does not need to reject the local culture but transform it. Islamic understanding traditionally recognizes Arab culture (particularly as portrayed by its founder and the first four imams) as the ideal culture, and so other cultures should be replaced by it.  <Islamic missionaries sometimes practice a form of translation, and Christian missionaries all too often slide into a diffusion mentality, but the above stereotype is normative.>

So do Christian missionaries destroy cultures?  They can, and have certainly helped others do it at times. However, they have commonly done more to preserve cultures than the various economic exploiters who inevitably come.

Critical Contextualization Model (Hiebert)

Paul Hiebert speaks of “Critical Contextualization”. “Uncritical Contextualization” leads to syncretism (not really acceptable from a Christian perspective). However “Non-contextualization” can lead to Christianity being foreign or in being a veneer over the base cultural belief system. Additionally… noncontextualization can lead to cultural decay… which is also a bad thing.

In the Philippines, it is pretty clear that many of the missionaries who came here felt that Christians must live and act as they themselves live. Therefore, Christian churches in the Philippines tend to clearly mimic the churches of the missionaries’ home countries. It is not surprising therefore, the huge number and popularity of syncretistic cultic groups here (a common result of non-contextualization of faith). Admittedly, Islamic missions is worse. The local mosque essentially sequesters its 200 trainees and focuses on teaching Arabic and the Tawhid. In both cases, however, when one sees the other people that come to the Philippines, such as the economic opportunists and sexual tourists, I still realize that the missionaries have (generally and I hope usually) done more good.

Christian missions should not destroy cultures. It should affirm the good and help people in the local culture discover their true potential within their own unique cultural setting, serving God faithfully in their own language and style.

Miscegenation and Missions, Part II

Cover of "Anthropological Reflections on ...
Cover via Amazon

Some questions as a follow-on to Part 1 of this post topic.

  1. Does interracial or intercultural marriage lessen the foreignness of the Christian faith? In Asia and Africa the “Sword and Taxation” method of Islamic conversion had begun to falter well before that religion reached Southeast Asia. And yet some of the greatest success of this religion occurred here (particularly in what is now known as Indonesia). One of the major methods involved Muslim traders who would marry into the local tribes. By being part of the tribe or clan, the trader’s faith entered the group and would, sometimes at least, become the dominant faith system. It is hard to say that a religion is foreign if it is linked to a cultural group through blood. The common Christian missionary method of maintaining separateness from the local culture (through ‘missions compounds’ and maintaining familial separation) helped maintain Christianity as a Western/foreign faith.
  2. Can interracial or intercultural marriage provide a cultural bridge? Paul Hiebert (in “Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues”) refers to the children of missionary parents as providing a “bicultural bridge”. Since they are raised by parents of one culture, while living in another culture, they end up having neither culture and both cultures. They are sometimes called 3rd Culture Kids (TCK). This bridge can be used to extend and contextualize faith to a new culture. However, a marriage that is already bicultural can potentially have the elements of a bicultural bridge as well.
  3. Can an interracial or intercultural marriage provide logistical benefits in missions? With the greater difficulty of getting missionary visas, and challenges of in-depth language acquisition, it is quite possible that in some cases marriage removes many of the challenges that many missionaries have to commonly address.
  4. But… can interracial or intercultural missionary couples really do missions? Some would argue that they can only if they serve in a third culture. This seems patently false. Paul and Barnabbas worked within their own cultures in much of their mission work. Barnabbas was a Hellenistic Diaspora Jew from Cyprus and Paul was a Hellenistic Diaspora Jew from Asia Minor. The first mission point on their first Mission journey was to Hellenistic Diaspora Jews in Cyprus, followed by Non-Jews of the same general culture in Cyprus. The next mission points were to Hellenistic Diaspora Jews in Asia Minor followed by Non-Jews of the same general culture in Asia Minor. Missions is about going outside the church rather than going outside of one’s culture.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some things I am clearly NOT saying.

  1. I am not suggesting interracial or intercultural marriages as some sort of Macchiavelian route to missions effectiveness. I am simply suggesting that these marriages should not be looked upon as negative or a hindrance to mission work.
  2. I am not assuming that people in single culture marriages cannot be effective. I am suggesting a both/and rather than either/or attitude.
  3. I am not suggesting that there aren’t unique problems related to these sort of marriages in missions. Marriage made up of partners from two different cultures can be a strain. However, this is equally (if not more) true of different social economic strata, educational attainment, or vocational level. Additionally, sometimes these marriages become unequal where both partners share a common attitude of superiority of one culture over the culture being ministered to. In this case, the spouse from the local culture can do more damage than help.

Anyway, these are some things to think about.

Miscegenation and Missions, Part I

Henry Nott
Henry Nott. Image via Wikipedia

<I am part of a mixed race marriage, and our children are (not surprisingly) mixed race and mixed culture. As such, I have a particular interest in mission’s attitude to racially mixed marriage and the role of race in missions in general.>

For those who don’t know the term, miscegenation refers to “marriage or sexual relations between a man and woman of different races.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition)

Christian Missions has had a difficult relationship with race. While it is stylish today to talk about missionaries in the 19th century and early 20th century as racists or cultural imperialists, the truth is much more complicated. Missionaries tended to be monoculturalists. That is, they tended to see and judge the world around them through the lens of their home culture. They had difficulty (as most of us, frankly, do) in separating between “our culture” and “Christian culture”. It is also true that they tended to view themselves as superior to the people in the cultures they worked in. Historically, people often relate technological superiority with cultural or even genetic superiority.

However, missionaries of this time also accepted other peoples as God’s creation and, therefore, brothers and sisters, rejecting the so called racial science theories of the time. Quoting from Ruth Tucker’s book “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya” (Zondervan, 1983) pg 140,

It was the nineteenth-century intellectuals of high society who viewed black Africans” (and other races as well) “as inherently inferior—many rungs below Caucasians on the ethnologists’ evolutionary ladder. Missionaries, on the other hand, were ridiculed in scholarly journals for their shallow thinking in regard to race, and most educated Englishmen would have agreed with Mary Kingsley (whose Africa travelogue was widely circulated) when she criticized missionaries for their ‘difficulty in regarding the Africans as anything but a Man and a Brother” and their belief in ‘the spiritual equality of all colors of Christians.’”

Stephen Jay Gould’s book “The Mismeasurement of Man” gives a great deal of information on these 19th century ‘scholars’ who worked very hard to prove the inherent superiority (intellectually, physically, and morally) of Caucasians over other groups. Missionaries often fought these attitudes, and did much to protect local peoples from abuse from other Europeans and Americans.

However, missionaries showed much of their racism when it came to miscegenation. One of the biggest concerns was missionaries “going native”. While “going native” could demonstrate itself in many different forms, one of the most evident ways this was done, was through sexual relations. While this has often been a problem, it was often seen in the South Pacific where the local cultures made marrying into the local tribe relatively easy. Many singles (particularly single men) had problems in missions due to sexual temptation. In some cases this was a rejection of the mission calling. The term “going native” would, in this case, not be very accurate. Rather, their behavior was more in line with European and American traders and sailors (rather than the behavior of natives) who lived a hedonistic lifestyle on some islands, violating both home and local cultural norms. But many did not seek to leave their missionary calling. One story often mentioned was of Henry Nott. Nott served in Tahiti in the 1800s under the London Missionary Society (LMS). While in Tahiti, Nott, took a Tahitian woman as his wife. However, because of objections from others, he and other missionaries with the LMS agreed to “annul” their local marriages to marry “Christian” women sent by the mission society for them. Henry Nott’s new wife did not prove to be a sound missionary and died a few months later of excessive drinking. (Reference: “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya”, pgs. 201-202)

Times have changed… but some problems linger. I have known missionaries who have been cut off by supporters for “marrying a foreigner”. Some mission agencies still believe that missionaries cannot serve in their home culture. Commonly, home culture, becomes interpreted as home country; but one can see the challenge of working in a culture and marrying someone within that culture if doing so causes policy problems within the agency (as well as supporters). Part 2 looks at some questions regarding interracial or intercultural marriage within the context of missions.

Quote for Thought

I am not reaping the harvest; I scarcely claim to be sowing the seed; I am hardly ploughing the soil; but I am gathering out the stones. That, too, is missionary work; let it be supported by loving sympathy and fervent prayer.” -Robert Bruce, missionary to Iranian Muslims in the late 19th century.

<Quoted by Stephen Neill in “A History of Christian Missions,” Penguin (1986), pg 311.>